| The skeletal remains of Pierolapithecus. (Reuters)
London, Nov. 19: A 'missing link' that is likely to have been the last common ancestor of all living great apes, including humans, was unveiled today by palaeontologists.
An exceptionally complete skeleton of the 13-million-year-old creature from Spain called Pierolapithecus catalaunicus suggests that it is likely that this tree-dwelling creature, or something very similar, was close to the most ancient great ape ancestor.
The new find is the most ancient ape to show the upright posture, muzzle-less face and other key traits seen in all living great apes ' and humans. At 13 million years old, the remains date from the right time, according to studies of the genetic make-up of modern primates.
The find was reported today in the journal Science by Prof. Salvador Moy'-Sol' of the Miguel Crusafont Institute of Palaeontology and the Diputaci'de Barcelona in Spain and colleagues.
The name Pierolapithecus refers to the village of Els Hostalets de Pierola, near the fossil site, and catalaunicus is for Catalonia, the region where the site is located. 'This is the oldest missing link of all members of our family, the Hominidae,' Moy'-Sol' said.
The first sign of Pierolapithecus's existence was a tooth turned up by a bulldozer that was clearing the land for digging. The researchers kept digging and uncovered one of the most complete skeletons ever found from the period.
The fossil find includes parts of the skull, rib cage, spine, hands and feet.
The great apes, which include orang-utans, chimpanzees, gorillas and humans, are thought to have diverged from the lesser apes, a group that contains modern gibbons and siamangs, about 11 to 16 million years ago.